In: Visual Art

140 photographs from 10 different series produced by Fernell Franco between 1970 and 1996 are currently shown at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. CALI CLAIR–OBSCUR is a first-time-in-Europe retrospective of this curiously under-recognised Latin American photographer.

The exhibition has not failed to demonstrate Fernell Franco’s photography techniques and unique senses of vision, evidently accumulated from his rich experiences from being a fotocinero (a photographer who takes and sells portraits of people in the streets) to a photojournalist for the newspapers and a fashion photographer. Working as a photojournalist of Cali, Colombia, his sharp and close observation of the city stems from his unbreakable bonding with his native home. As highlighted by the title of the show –Cali, Clair-Obscur, Fernell Franco’s powerful, unobtrusive and yet radical works center on the light and darkness of the city’s urban life.

Fernell Franco, Series Billares, 1985. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

Fernell Franco, Series Billares, 1985. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

Since 1954, Fernell Franco had been discovering cinema and eventually became a film aficionado. He would watch several movies a day in various cinemas throughout the city. As a result, cinematic influence of Mexican cinemafilm noir and Italian neorealism is significantly visible in the Billare series, presenting interior images of snooker clubs in finely designed composition, and the Interiores series, seeking to record the fast-vanishing urban areas from early 1970s where abandoned homes became slums. What I favor the most in these series is how the cinematic effects were accentuated by the artist’s retouching of colours and the emphasis on the contrast between red and green on B&W photos. Serving as a testimony of the cityscape for later generations, the Interiores series showcases the importance of Fernell Franco’s work within a broader cultural context in Cali at the beginning of the 1970s.

Fernell Franco, Series Prostitutas, 1970-1972 (photomontage),Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

Fernell Franco, Series Prostitutas, 1970-1972 (photomontage),Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

The Prostitutas series depicts young girls and women working in one of the last brothels in Buenaventura, Colombia. It is neither glamour nor seduction. Instead, we see realism and darkness. Uneasiness arose when I saw some of the girls in portraits look like a 12-year-old, too young to appear in such settings. The artist used experimental techniques such as toning and solarisation to enhance the contrasts, underlining the dark shadows as ‘a metaphor for forgetting and confinement’. Ironically, underscoring the contrast is the light-hearted salsa music that accompanies the exhibition. Fernell Franco wanted to recreate the joyful and enthusiastic ambiance typical of restaurants, bars, night clubs and brothels of Cali when he exhibited this Prostitutas series at Ciudad Solar, Cali back in 1972.

I like the creepy mysterious, imaginative and  artistic series entitled Amarrados (translated as tied) photos taken by Fernell Franco of wrapped and tied merchandise objects left unattended overnight when he was wandering around the outdoor markets of Colombia and Latin America. According to the text description in the exhibition, these objects in peculiar forms and sizes were seen as dead human bodies.

Fernell Franco, Series Interiores, 1979, Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

Fernell Franco, Series Interiores, 1979, Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Fundación Fernell Franco Cali / Toluca Fine Art, Paris

Fernell Franco’s works, representative of Latin American photography, not only are part of the vibrant art scene in Cali since early 1970s, but also have witnessed the transformation of a Colombian city throughout the decades meandering through light and darkness.

FERNELL FRANCO | CALI CLAIR–OBSCUR
February 6 June 5, 2016, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris

Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which is located in the museum’s sculpture garden. However, with twenty-one works, including drawings, prints, and sculptures, the exhibit provides an intimate look into the mind of a truly remarkable artist as she contemplated themes of life, death, domesticity, and womanhood.

The French-American artist was born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1911. Her family owned a gallery in Aubusson, the tapestry producing region of central France and home to Bourgeois’s mother’s family. The artist spent part of her childhood working in the gallery where her family sold and restored antique tapestries, helping repair them by filling in worn areas, using lines to indicate where stitches should be made. These experiences made a lasting impression, as displayed in Bourgeois’s early works on view in the National Gallery’s exhibition. The images recall the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, while simultaneously recalling the interweavings of textiles.

Louise Bourgeois, La tapisserie de mon enfance–Mountains in Aubusson (The Tapestry of My Childhood), 1947. Brush and black ink and gouache on cream paper: 19 x 12 in. (48.3 x 30.5 cm)Corcoran Collection (Gift of William H. G. FitzGerald, Desmond FitzGerald, and B. Francis Saul II) © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, La tapisserie de mon enfance–Mountains in Aubusson (The Tapestry of My Childhood), 1947. Brush and black ink and gouache on cream paper: 19 x 12 in. (48.3 x 30.5 cm) © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

She began her long and prolific career as an artist in the early 1930s after being introduced to the Surrealists, whose ideology centered on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European Surrealists who were exiled during the war. Yet, the artist herself denied the label of a Surrealist. “At the mention of surrealism, I cringe. I am not a surrealist.” Still, it is difficult to separate the whimsicality and bizarre juxtapositions of her work from that of the Surrealists, or even their predecessors, the Dadaists. The works in the show bring to mind Francis Picabia’s mechanical portraits, Max Ernst’s collages, or Joan Miró’s landscapes.

Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, Plate 7, 1947. Engraving in black on wove paper. Plate: 17.78 x 13.65 cm (7 x 5 3/8 in.) Sheet: 25.4 x 17.78 cm (10 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Dian Woodner © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, Plate 7, 1947. Engraving in black on wove paper. Plate: 17.78 x 13.65 cm (7 x 5 3/8 in.) Sheet: 25.4 x 17.78 cm (10 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Dian Woodner © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Instead Bourgeois preferred the label of existentialist, admiring the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the story of three recently departed souls on their way to hell, anticipating the physical torment they are about to endure. As it turns out, the pain they experience in hell is not physical, but psychological. Their hell is being trapped in a room from which there is no escape for all eternity with the people they despise the most, each other just imagine going to a dinner party with all the people you’ve ever blocked on Facebook, and then multiply that feeling by infinity. As Sartre famously says, “Hell is other people.”

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 1952. Painted wood and plaster, overall: 161.9 cm (63 3/4 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 1952. Painted wood and plaster, overall: 161.9 cm (63 3/4 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

While Bourgeois draws her inspiration from Sartre, her personal hell seems to be the absence of other people. The nine engravings and enigmatic parables that volume He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947) show Bourgeois at her most Surreal. The subjects, ranging from a little girl who buried her coveted candy in the ground, only to find that it has been ruined by the damp soil, to a man who cuts up his wife and serves her at a dinner party, represent what the artist referred to as “tiny tragedies of human frustration.” The characters of her story show indifference, or even cruelty towards one another, conveying the deep sense of isolation that often embodies Bourgeois’s work. We are left with a sense of ambivalence towards them, they commit acts that signal both internal and external conflict. One plate tells the story of a loving but overbearing mother, and a son “of a quiet nature and rather intelligent,” but who is indifferent to his mother’s love. The prodigal son leaves, and later the mother dies without his knowledge. Three haunting, elongated figures occupy the space, prompting us to wonder who the third figure could be. The feeling we are left with is one of remorse and sympathy for the mother, but also for the son. The print could be semi-autobiographical, Bourgeois lost her mother at 21 years old, around the time she was beginning her career. This loss had a profound effect on her artwork, seen especially in her series Maman, and again in what could be seen as a companion piece, M is for Mother (1998). The latter, on view in the exhibit, is a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys both maternal comfort and control. With such a conflict, Bourgeois forces us to question our relationships with those around us.

Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, Plate 9, 1947. Engraving in black on wove paper. Plate: 22.54 x 10 cm (8 7/8 x 3 15/16 in.) Sheet: 25.4 x 17.78 cm (10 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Dian Woodner © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, Plate 9, 1947. Engraving in black on wove paper. Plate: 22.54 x 10 cm (8 7/8 x 3 15/16 in.) Sheet: 25.4 x 17.78 cm (10 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Dian Woodner © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Like Sartre, she believed that free will was the essence of existentialist thought, but unlike Sartre, she also believed that our pasts inform our future. Deeply fixed memories inspired her oeuvre over the course of a remarkably long career. This reluctance to let go meant that she rarely considered a work finished, generally leaving open the possibility of a future iteration. One of her later books, the puritan (1990), deals precisely with this theme. This bound volume of eight hand-colored engravings on handmade paper takes place in New York, and is a story of lost love. “With the puritan,” Bourgeois explained, “I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance…I put it on a grid…I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view.”

Louise Bourgeois, the puritan (4), 1990. Engraving in black with additions in gouache on Twinrocker handmade paper with Japan gampi chine collé. Plate: 42.55 x 27.31 cm (16 3/4 x 10 3/4 in.) Sheet: 65.72 x 50.17 cm (25 7/8 x 19 3/4 in.) © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, the puritan (4), 1990. Engraving in black with additions in gouache on Twinrocker handmade paper with Japan gampi chine collé. Plate: 42.55 x 27.31 cm (16 3/4 x 10 3/4 in.) Sheet: 65.72 x 50.17 cm (25 7/8 x 19 3/4 in.) © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

A number of sculptures are included in the exhibit as well, ranging from her small but recognizable cast Germinal (1967), to the life-sized sculptures the artist referred to as “Personages.” These sculptures, Bourgeois said, were made to be exhibited at ground level so that they could be interacted with “like people.” While they exist in our space, they also stand isolated and detached. Made from modest, often discarded materials and employing simple methods of construction, these totemic figures reflect a wartime sensibility of salvage and reuse in a damaged environment.

Louise Bourgeois, Mortise, 1950. Painted wood, overall: 152.4 x 45.7 x 38.1 cm (60 x 18 x 15 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Louise Bourgeois, Mortise, 1950. Painted wood, overall: 152.4 x 45.7 x 38.1 cm (60 x 18 x 15 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY

Bourgeois’s work asks a timeless and essential question: in periods of conflict, uncertainty, or hostility, can we live meaningful lives? It seems to me that Bourgeois would say that it is in these moments that we are at our most authentic, and that the greatest struggle we have to overcome is not external, but internal. This is, however, a question Bourgeois would want us to answer for ourselves.

Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is on view until May 15, 2016.

Courtesy of the Artist

Based in New York City, photographer Ebru Varol brings into focus not just life on the streets but the life of the street.  Ebru’s work is acutely aware of how memory fades, and the camera captures just a moment.  Her photographs dance between light and dark, to see and experience that moment in its entirety.  I got the chance to ask Ebru some questions regarding her work, passion, and what drives her Light.

  1. Can you recall the moment where you discovered your passion for photography, or when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

Well, it was after a series of relocations, from one continent to another, moving slowly from East towards the West. I moved here, to New York, from London in 2001, right after September 11th, in a time of grief. While being alone and feeling uncertain in the streets of New York, the only certain thing was my camera. My camera became my best friend, my comrade in arms. I guess if I have to pin down the moment when I discovered my passion for photography, it would be then. Photography came to me as an outlet for expressing my emotional state at that time and it stayed with me ever since. The decision to pursue a career came a few years ago when I realized that my passion, my photography could also possibly be my work and if that was the case, I had to treat it as such.

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Do you have a preference of shooting in color or black and white?

Certain things I see in color and others in black and white. When shooting in black and white, I am looking for light and dark contrasts, which carry so many symbolisms and parallelisms with real life. Black and white exposures with their retro feeling move me from the present to the past and from the west to the east.  My color images have a different quality, more meditative. Instead of the contrast’s depth, the surfaces activate sensations and emotions with a more long lasting effect.

  1. What’s your favorite subject to shoot?

In my eyes everything carries a life of its own, even the lifeless. As a street photographer, I think of myself as a type of 19th century Parisian flâneur, an explorer and observer of the silent. I wander through cities or nature’s paths looking for forms and light. There are several themes that keep coming up in my photographs: windows and staircases, reflections and different textures, mannequins and figurines, locks and keys and other things with an old soul.

Exhibition - Let It In..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Let It In…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. What drives your art?

I am looking at reality through a viewfinder. I see how the light touches forms, how new shapes are created, how reflections change the interpretation of what I see. Then I have this desire to capture these instances, to make images out of them, to have them tell their story, perhaps my story or your story…

  1. Do your roots in Istanbul impact you as a photographer?

Istanbul is an old city, engraved with history. When you walk on the cobblestones, you wonder who has walked the same paths over the centuries. This connection is present in my images, even though sometimes I need to break away from the past, be in the present and feel the magnetism of the contemporary. Finding my Istanbul, locating that emotional state is an intriguing challenge.  My photographs of windows are a good example of what I am trying to say. A window can be anywhere East or West. It’s a window in someone’s soul, memories, fantasies. In certain pictures and certain moments, the camera becomes a window as well, opening and closing, technically and metaphorically.

Exhibition - Love Is Love..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Love Is Love…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Could you explain a term that’s part of your photographical philosophy, “The Light”?

Photography literally means the transcription of light. In the image Reverie, named after the title of my upcoming show, a seated mannequin is contemplating, perhaps daydreaming, frozen in time and in the composition looking outside the window at an old building across the street.  The moment the photo was taken the light came through in a certain angle lighting up the window and blending the inside with the outside, becoming one.  This is how the story of that image begun, with a spark of light. Its very mythological!

  1. Where has your favorite place been to exhibit your work?

London, because it was the first city I ever showed my work, and New York because I am having my first solo show here.  I feel lucky ‘cause both cities have a highly sophisticated audience.

  1. Are there any particular artists, photographers or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to photography?

I am very drawn to the works of M. C. Escher, especially in his interest of infinite spaces, geometries and reflections. Edward Hopper’s stillness, his urban scenes and his perspectives of windows with the intense feeling of loneliness fascinate me. Also the works of JMW Turner and his use of light and moving skies are important.  In a recent show of his work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK, he was taking over all my sensations. But André Kertész is perhaps the strongest influence: the way he captured urban life, highlighting the poetic and the quiet. How his images “give meaning to everything” about him and how “to make photographs as by reflection in a mirror, unmanipulated and direct as in life.” All these artists and their artworks inform my work and inspire me, perhaps a little piece of them are found in my photographs.

Exhibition - Seeing Glass..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Seeing Glass…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Are you interested in other forms of art?

When I was a child I believed I would grow up and become an architect.  Life turned out differently, but still in my photos one can see my affection to architecture and the urban environment.

  1. In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to receive a degree, whether that be a BA or MFA, to be “actually qualified” in order to be successful?

I think a BA and/or MFA degree is very important, but in my case being a self-taught artist, an autodidact, grants me a strange freedom. I don’t have strains, rules or prefixed ideas about how my art should be. But I do not underestimate the academic qualifications. They give you a confidence, a network and a deeper understanding of the art world.

  1. You received a BA in Business Management, correct?  Has that been of use to you for the business side of your work?

Every piece of information and knowledge is useful. My BA in business helps me think of my work in a practical manner, like in the technical aspect where market research is important for the production of the work. Creatively I cannot find any connection between my business training and my photography, other than the opposition of the two: in my artwork there are no constraints, while business is all about rules.

  1. What’s your advice for someone who would also like to pursue a career in this field?

Take your camera and don’t hesitate. This is your world, this is your work.

Ebru has an upcoming Solo Exhibition entitled Reveries in the Gregg Gallery of the National Arts Club, from February 29-March 12, 2016.  The title of this show refers to her creative process during her wanderings through urban streets and nature’s paths.

To see more of Ebru’s work, check out her website.

Last week an exhibition of new work by acclaimed conceptual artist Michael Joo opened at Blain|Southern’s brightly-lit space in London’s Mayfair. The show consists of a dozen or so objects, mostly canvases, that delight and disturb in equal measure. In the gallery’s first room, a series of works depict what looks like cooking experiments gone horribly wrong, with the contours of blackened, shimmering commercial metal baking trays staring back at you, framing your golden reflection with a dark halo of char.

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Adjacent to the trays, a slab of roughly textured marble mounted on a steel frame depicts the coloured strata of compressed earth, a build up of land over millennia. Treated with Joo’s preferred chemical compound—silver-nitrate—one side of the billboard-like slab shimmers, reflecting the light and space of the gallery; a sculpture meets painting meets otherworldly window. In the second room, the intrigue of textures, chemically layered materials and shimmering surfaces grows, with floor-to-ceiling paintings mimicking deep, reflective pools of solidified liquid. Upon vast spans of alluring surface quality you detect paint drips, brush strokes, sculptural grooves, bubbles of silver and, your own silhouette hazily reflected back at you.

Michael_Joo_1

These mysteriously reflective yet intricately textured surfaces do not let themselves be taken in easily. Needing more than a casual glance or fleeting thought, the works display the enigmatic conceptual complexity, a layering of both material and meaning meaning that Joo is well known for. Addressing common themes of identity, nature, science, politics and experience, his art is not governed by an adherence to one particular medium or form, but ranges whimsically from video and performance to readymade natural objects, to installation work. Consistent in his oeuvre however, is a deep engagement with the idea of process, with transforming materials and dissolving boundaries – whether physical or conceptual, social or natural (“With the best of art, some of the boundaries between I and we and you dissolve”). Originally trained as a scientist, his chemically treated surfaces and material experiments seem more suited to the realm of science than art. Yet without being required to conform to scientific guidelines, Joo is free to give whatever form he wishes to his most experimental ideas.

Michael_Joo_3

At Blain | Southern, the multifariously layered paintings articulate Joo’s consistent interest in the transformative processes of energy. Both its modes of transference, its effects and its more mystical, philosophical dimensions pop up throughout his oeuvre, but have here found their most pertinent expressions. The tray paintings for example, directly address energy as the source of human activity; they attempt to capture it, represent and embody it.

As found ‘readymades’, the ordinary trays were each stamped with a numerical value representing the number of calories individuals would expend performing various human actions, such as lie, stand or drive for a single second. The resulting image was then transferred to canvas to create Warhol-esque silkscreens, upon which Joo enacted a number of subsequent painterly processes. In a play upon subjective experience versus quantifiable ‘objective’ data collection, each absurdly specific number represents an individual second of energy transformed. Joo’s artistic process has digested, melted these values inside the second-hand baking trays, each of which has its own history associated with the transformation of ingredients and energy expenditure.

Beyond our scientific, factual understanding of its processes, energy can take on magical proportions in our collective imaginations; a mystical power with flows that govern the potential for alchemy, for divine miracles and spiritual transformations. Two darkly shimmering canvases on either side of a floating wall embody this. Although also revealing precise caloric values indicating amounts of energy transferred, they reference more the sublime than the mundane. Based on Joo’s average measurements of artistic representations, the artist worked out a basal metabolic rate for The Buddha. Using the calculated weight and height — keeping in mind the tradition of Buddhist ascetic monks starving themselves — Joo then gauged the number of calories used per millisecond as a human body either consumes itself (the canvas entitled ‘Give’) or is offered up as sustenance (the canvas entitled ’Take’). The result is a mixture of visceral morbidity with spiritual exaltation, death represented as both the metaphysical journey of the spirit up to God and the plain physical decomposition of the body.

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Interestingly, the title of the current show is Radio Halo, after the geological phenomenon that describes spherical areas of discolouration on natural rocks, caused by radioactive isotopes. This is more than a casual reference to nature. You only have to google the term to discover that radio halo’s have come to be of particular interest to supporters of creationism, who call them ’the fingerprints of creation’, supposedly evidence of the myth of a ‘young’, almost instantaneously created earth.

What to make of this reference remains unclear, which is presumably how Joo intended it. Clearly, there is more to his art than meets the eye, although what meets your eyes at Blain | Southern is more than enough to make you want to keep looking. As testimonies to the complex processes carried out upon their surfaces, the visceral works show Joo blurring the lines between nature and culture, science and religion, experience and myth. His enigmatic references lead to extraordinarily open-ended questions; what is the relationship between ‘objective’ measurable data, our subjective human experiences and the ultimately intangible mystery of our final purpose and destination? Joo’s evocative materiality is both the result and the embodiment of these conceptual meditations; his art the physical expression of things we struggle to even give form to in our minds.

Recently I had a pleasure to meet an incredibly inspirational young artist – Anouska Beckwith. Born in London, Anouska spent her early years traveling and exploring her artistic side with the help of good old photography. Moving on to pursue her degree at Speos Photographic Institute, Anouska lives and works in Paris. She is also the founder of the World Wide Women Collective. We caught up on life, art and spiritual in a pre-christmassy moody city of London that left me motivationally driven to go on and explore my inner self.

awakened

  1. When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

My two Grandmother’s taught me how to knit and embroider and my mother always enoucuraged me in art classes, ceramics and photography from a young age… it wasn’t something that I decided necessarily on, but I enjoyed it a lot. Then it got to a point where I was about 22 and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. So I thought to myself, what would make me really happy throughout my life, what is something I can do in my 80’s, or when I have a child? I live in the future, I find it quite hard to be in the present. I started taking photographs again, which I had done before but not on a specific subject, just on travels or of friends. I started looking at what I was inspired by, and by 23 I knew that was the field that I wanted to go back into. I think as a creative person, you should never say well, this is just what I am. Otherwise you get quite frustrated or have an artistic block. That’s the death of the artist, so for me I like to play with different mediums.

  1. So you don’t define yourself?

As just one thing, no. At the moment I’m working on two photographic series for myself, and then I’m building an installation room, which I’ve been working on with the architect, Omar Ouazzani Touhami for the past three months but I had the idea 4 years ago. Then I’m building a photographic light installation featuring my muse Flo Morrissey. The artists that I very much respect are Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono. Those are the people I’m very inspired by, because you look at their body of work and there’s just so much to choose from.

  1. Would you do performance, like Yoko Ono?

Absolutely. I would like to do a performance piece to do with dance at some point as I trained as ballerina and have always feel free when exploring that as a medium. I’ve learnt how to be in front of the camera and I’ve just done my first music video as a director for the musician Katy Rose which will be released in the next couple of months and I did a short film last year about Shakespeare’s Ophelia. It’s always about the right time and the right material, I never like to rush things. I studied photography at school, and then I studied at a Speos Institute a French school in Paris, so that was the initial starting point.

Musician Katy Rose

  1. Why did you decide to move to Paris?

I had always wanted to live there, inspired by the culture, beauty, and as a visual fantasy land, I mean, I love Tim Burton, that kind of Gothic, subtle, beautiful, but it’s not modern. Everyone still dresses like they’re from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, and I love that style, so there’s a lot of things for me as a woman that I found very appealing. They have amazing food and culture, so I thought that if I could live in Paris and survive there with the French, I could live anywhere else in the world! I’m definitely a traveller so I like to go to different places. I believe in reincarnation, so I feel drawn to certain places that I haven’t been to, and usually if I’m desperate to go there, I end up just loving it.

Katy Rose

  1. Do you get inspiration and ideas from traveling?

Absolutely, but not only traveling. I love film and literature, art and photography, poetry, I’ve got my head definitely in the stars, so I’m not somebody who’s very pragmatic, I like to be away with fairies and look at life as if its a miracle.

  1. Why did you decide to stay permanently in Paris?

Well I knew I wanted to move for a period of time. I’d grown up in London partly and I didn’t really ever feel very English. I’m someone who likes to see other cultures. At the end of the day if you can see as many places as you can before you die, that’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, whether or not you have a boyfriend or you’re married, or you can show your children… so I’ve definitely got the traveling bug.

  1. Do you just go trekking with a backpack?

It depends, if I’m going to America, no. If I go to India, I used to go with a backpack, live on a hut on the beach. Once I slept in a broom closet, I’m quite versatile with how I can travel. If somewhere is special and it’s worth going to see, I like it to be as natural as possible. I’m very lucky that I’ve had some amazing people that I’ve travelled with and who have showed me lovely places. India was an eye-opening experience from a very young age.

Sea Of Sunflowers

  1. Do you think the art scene is different to each other in Paris and London?

Very much. Paris is a bit behind with the art. They don’t do so many installations, they love reportage photography, so Henri Cartier-Bresson is their mecca, they’re not so into fine art, they love fashion, whereas in London, fine art, fashion, reportage, they fit all of those aspects in the same, and you have nature and geographical but that’s very specific. But me, personally, I love New York as one of the places with the best art because there are just so many art galleries, it’s just a bigger industry. But Los Angeles is definitely becoming a hubbub of contemporary artt, photography & fine art, it’s becoming quite a cool place to be an artist. You have to know where you, as an artist, are inspired. It’s about standing as an individual and developing your own voice.

  1. Have you found it?

To a certain degree but I think with an artist you’re always looking at your work in a way that’s slightly like torture. You’re always wanting to be better, to push yourself, and you want it to be somewhat original. We’re all slight shades of grey to begin with because we’ve had so much work in the past thousands of years that it’s quite hard to come up with an original idea.  I’m not thinking that everyone’s going to like my work, that’s not the goal. It’s more to bring light and positivity and hope and beauty to people, because I think there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Sometimes I make darker work but I don’t necessarily expose it. There’s a difference with making work just for yourself or having it to show others…

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  1. Do you remember the first time you showed your work in public?

The first work that I exposed, was when I created the collective World Wide Women, in 2012 for the ‘ Wanderer’s Eye Exhibition’ in Paris. I was quite nervous about showing work, so I set up the collective with women who were just starting out and exhibit under common themes of nature, femininity, and positivity, and the esoteric which went under the banner of the positive. It was about empowering one another and not about extreme feminism. That was the beginning of WWW and since then we’ve done eight shows in the past three years. At present we are coming up with our next theme for an exhibition and expansion for 2016-17! Then I had my first solo show Transcendance curated by Andi [Potamkin] in New York in 2015, and then I did another female exhibition at the Box Studio in East London curated by Clio Peppiatt with Female Matters. That’s been my journey so far and then next year I would like to exhibit the installation room.

  1. What is this installation room like?

The project’s called “I am the other you”, and it’s about human beings relationship to nature, especially trees and how important it is to preserve the rainforest and for us as humans to live in harmony with the planet. I came up with the idea four years ago after a shamanic ceremony and had the vision to do 8 rooms, called the “Infinity Series”. My good friend designer/artist Koji Tatsuno was extremely encouraging of the original idea and really pushed me to create them so I am very grateful for his belief in me.

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  1. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’d like to be a working artist throughout my life. I like producing work and getting it seen, promoting it through social media or having it in an exhibition or in a magazine, because part of it is to share with others, and have feedback. It’s an interaction. Everything’s so personal and subjective. I want people to tell me what they like and don’t like. That’s what’s so interesting about art – it’s so individual.

  1. In the contemporary art world, though, artists could be forced to create something trendy in order to sell it. Have you ever experienced this pressure?

No, that’s why I live in Paris. In London, there is that feeling of having to confrom. I think a lot of art is the emperor’s new clothes, it’s something on the wall, invisible art as an example. If you’ve got to imagine what’s on a wall… Well I can imagine what’s on a wall any time. For free. For me, nature is one of the most important aspects. I love going somewhere and finding a completely beautiful and raw backdrop and having a very simplistic form, generally it’s women because I like photographing my friends or people I’m inspired by. I’m photographing more men at the moment. I just shot the actor and musician Reeve Carney for a two projects in Dublin. After a while of having just women, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a photograph of a man or do something slightly different. So I’m always exploring other options. I like beauty, but I don’t necessarily like what commercial beauty is. I’m interested in not just the outside, but the inside as well. I’m very much a romantic person, I’m a fantasist to a certain degree. I love Dali, Klimt, Millais, John Currin and Frida Kahlo those artists take you to another place, and that’s for me what art is about.

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  1. Do you think art is necessary in society?

100%. Personally I feel that schools try to educate people to conform to being the same as everyone else. I don’t think that’s what life’s about at all. I think life’s about being happy and finding that happiness, and if you have to work three different jobs to make your art, I think personally that’s what I’d rather do. In some countries around the world, obviously that’s not an option to even think like that, so I’m very privileged to have grown up in England where you are given the freedom to have those kinds of thoughts. I feel that art is something that you don’t have to be taught to know what the picture is about. I don’t need to be told, this is why you should like it, you either like it or you don’t. I do different Shamanic ceremonies, and I met this incredible Brazilian doctor and he was saying at the beginning of the ceremony that he used to try to define who he was, like “I’m a doctor, I’m a husband,” and he said the moment you start defining who you are, that part of you dies. And I thought to myself I can totally understand what he’s saying.

  1. So it’s also a power of thought?

Absolutely. I believe in manifestation, and I believe there’s a lot more to the power of mind than we’ve been given access to. Everyone likes to put everyone in a box and categorize what that person is. I think it’s a challenge not to be put into a box. I think only a small group of people can know who you really are, and those are your close friends.

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  1. Do you remember the best advice you were ever given?

Andi was definitely very helpful. She told me to embrace my weirdness, to not be afraid of that. That’s valuable advice. I’ve not been ever one to conform, but we all like to think of ourselves as not weird, but I think to embarce the light and darker aspects of ourselves and love them rather than repress them could all do us the world of good.

  1. Do you have advice to young people?

You need to not give up, to keep trying, to believe in yourself.. You never know when a door shuts it will lead you to an open window. Just believing in yourself is a very important thing. Follow your dreams. Life is so short, I try to live everyday as if it’s my last, and not wishing to be doing something else. If you’re wishing to be doing something else, then you should probably be doing that. I feel very lucky that I’m at the point in my life that I can explore what I want to. Even if you’re not in that position, having hope is very important.

 

Tonight marks the launch of London’s first ever festival of light, Lumiere. In a few hours time, when another long shivery evening will fall over the capital, a multitude of installations – some impressive and spectacular, others intimate and mysterious, all of them dazzling with light – will illuminate many of London’s well-known landmarks. Places like Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly, Oxford Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and various sites in Mayfair and King’s Cross will be adorned, transformed, and made strange by the inventions of leading artists, art collectives and design studios from all over the world. The festival originates in the city of Durham, where creative producers Artichoke have staged Lumiere Durham biannually since 2009. Durham locals have grown both accustomed and attached to their beloved festival and might not feel that enthusiastic over its move to the capital. Luckily there’s plenty of art, love and light to go around which is why I’d like to give a taster of some of my favourite Lumiere London pieces, all of which you can expect to encounter every night after dark until Sunday 10:30 pm.

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The purpose of Lumiere is to bring joy to the streets of London at a time that is infamously miserable and generally marked by debts, depression and darkness. To this end, Portuguese collective Ocubo has created an amazingly cheerful piece: an imaginary circus, staged with 2D and 3D light projections on the side of Central Saint Martin’s Granary building. Inspired by local school children’s drawings that tell the stories of classic circus characters, Circus of Light will make you jubilate with delight over a burlesque and playful light show filled with jolly tricks and capricious stunts. Accompanied by a hilarious soundtrack, the piece is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. On King’s Boulevard you can get involved in literally painting the town red – as well as every other colour. The ingenious technology of Stockholm based arts production company Floating Pictures allows you to colour the asphalt with either the torch on your smartphone or one of the gigantic glow sticks handed to you by the lovely volunteer on site. I’ve had the chance to preview the Light Graffiti, and trust me, it’s so fun you’ll find yourself embarrassed to have made those children queueing behind you wait so long. Less merry and lively than ghostly and entrancing are French-Korean artist Tae gon Kim’s dazzling Dresses that you’ll find along this street as well as Stable Street. These beautiful shimmering LED gowns look like eerie shells encapsulating invisible phantoms, frozen elegantly as if on their way to a fairytale ball in some wondrous different dimension. You’ll find a final glamorous guest trapped in a Liberty shop window over on Regent Street.

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Regent Street undoubtedly features as a focus point in the Lumiere footprint, physically connecting the two hubs of Westminster and Mayfair. Starting at the top, at Oxford Circus, you’ll first encounter one of the festival’s most eye-catching works: a gigantic jellyfish-like net sculpture entitled 1.8 by artist Janet Echelman, suspended from the surrounding architecture drawing an exquisite radiating silhouette of light against the night sky. A little further down, you’ll find French collective Groupe LAPS’ glowing stick-men rebelliously overrunning the façade of Liberty house. These skeletal figures dance with delight as if the city’s architectural environment is their own personal jungle gym, almost like a real-life realisation of Walt Disney’s 1929 Silly Symphony Skeleton Dance. Further down, opposite famous Carnaby Street, you’ll find another cartoon figure in motion. British ‘post-pop’ artist Julian Opie has installed Shaida Walking in busy Soho, a work created especially for Lumiere in his instantly recognizable, signature style. As in much of Opie’s work, the piece explores the tension between the general and the specific, the masses and the individual. The artist asked random people off the street to walk on a treadmill while being filmed and used the resulting hours of footage to come to a generic graphic rendering of someone (anyone, everyone – Shaida) walking. He subsequently placed her in a billboard-like LED display box ‘like a bronze statue of a civic hero’ intended to ‘stride endlessly as a living drawing and as part of the crowd.’

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Meanwhile, at the bottom of Regent Street, a character appears that will definitely stand out from the crowd: a majestic 3D elephant, which – projected onto the canvas stretched inside the Air street archway – will emerge from a cloud of dust stomping and trumpeting its way into its strange new surroundings. Created by the studio of French artist Catherine Garret, the Air Street Elephant echoes Artichoke’s very first intervention in London in 2006, when it paraded Royale de Luxe’s 20 feet high The Sultan’s Elephant through its streets. Lumiere allows a myriad of other animals to invade the city environment, from Sarah Blood’s songbirds hidden in twelve illuminated cages in Brown Hart gardens, their presence only betrayed by their song (which, I can reveal, is actually produced by people) through to neon balloon dogs à la Jeff Koons on the Strand. Finally, tropical fish feature as dreamlike silky sculptures swooping through the Piccadilly sky, and, over in Mayfair, they swim around in a London telephone box, leading you – once you grasp the odd redeployment of the familiar red object – to dream of tropical travel and an escape from everyday reality.

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Creating a temporary alternative to the urban everyday – the daily bore of making a living, commuting, working and so on – is one of Artichoke’s key aims. So beyond the purpose of lifting people’s spirits – although entirely worthwhile in and of itself – Artichoke’s projects intend to radically reimagine the purpose of a city. They question what a city’s spaces can hold, and who they are for. What can they accommodate other than the perpetual movement of people and products, the smooth flow of funds and vehicles? How many streets and tube stations can be closed in order to momentarily create a pedestrian playground and give the streets buildings and infrastructure over to dreamlike shapes and figures, imaginary performers, liberated animals? Reinventing a city as a large-scale outdoor gallery, a canvas for the imagination of both artists and the public, Lumiere disrupts the productive routines that characterise world capitals across the globe.. and it makes for a very worthwhile spectacle. Make sure to enjoy it while it lasts, from tonight (Thursday) through to Sunday night, 6:30-10:30 pm.

Dear readers,

Once again I took a dive into the internet archives of artwork and photography from Albania, in order to bring you relatively unknown work. For this article, I want to focus on women, because I realized that my last one presented you with mostly male artists. Having said that, the options are fairly limited. It seems difficult to be an English-speaking user of Google searching for Albanian work. I came across a lot of amateur photography, but in terms of more established artists, there was internet silence. Maybe this indicates that there is not much of it, or more likely I am ignorant as to the best way to find it.

What I did come across, however, is endlessly fascinating. So this article will integrate two very different concepts and styles of photography, governed by three broad themes: gender, photography, and Albania. It could also be argued that there is fourth theme creeping in around the edges, which is identity.

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The first incredible project is by a portrait photographer named Jill Peters, whose complex and difficult work explores questions of gender identity and social acceptance. I recommend viewing her project called “third gender”, which documents the Indian hijra.

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Peters herself is American, but she travelled to Albania to photograph a puzzling gender-bending tradition wherein women in the north decide to become sworn virgins, and to take on the social role of a man. This essentially involves a gender transition. The woman dresses like a man, wears her hair short, in some cases even changes her name, and is allowed to partake in the social positions occupied only by men in Albania. As I understand it, this is a dying tradition, so Peters’ work is particularly relevant as an historical document. A short video (must-see!) on the website describes the different reasons why women choose to take on this role. It mostly has to do with the fact that in traditional Albanian society, they are not considered social equals to men, and are basically in the power of their fathers, brothers, and later husbands. The sworn virgins sacrifice their sexuality and gender identity in order to work independently, to provide for their families, or, as the video states, to be free.

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Obviously, this project opens many questions and problems about the nature of this transition, but it does not necessarily seek to answer them. The portraits are straightforward, often posing their subjects with landscapes of Albania in the background. It shows them in their everyday clothing, in the process of doing work, or in their homes. What the project exposes in its best photographs are the subtle non-binary physical attributes that blur the lines of gender and present the viewers with something entirely new. It is a deeply complex situation to choose, or be pressured into, and so the photographs achieve something significant which is to probe and disrupt the visual and intellectual vocabulary of their viewers.

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  The second woman I discovered is named Eni Turkeshi, who is a contemporary photographer and artist from Albania’s capital, Tirana. Her work has been featured in many publications and group exhibitions, all of which can be found on her Flickr account. She works in all mediums of photography but specializes in alternative processes; cyanotypes, albumen printing, and other analogue techniques. Because of her interest in these processes, her photographs often take on the blurry, romantic, and layered qualities of darkroom mistakes. But for Turkeshi, this has become an entire aesthetic. In their less developed forms, the photographs appear to be amateur, but at their best, they are intricate portrayals of emotion and self-awareness and display a talent. Part of why I was so excited about her work is because I found her on many different online websites, none of which are particularly edited or curated, so I was able to take part in her process. This is, for the most part, experimental. I could see her attempts, which were more and less successful. She has seemingly endless amounts of projects posted on her Behance account, most of which are titled from songs or poetry. She makes many self-portraits, and photographs other women as well. This combined with the romantic and soft aesthetic led me to understand that her work has a distinctly feminine undercurrent, where she explores her own identity. Find a selection of her photographs below:

December 7, 2015

In talk with Juliette Losq

Juliette Losq is a London based artist, both born and raised in the city. Before taking an artistic path, she undertook an immersive training as an art historian, graduating with an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and continuing on to study fine art. Having had a number of solo and group exhibitions in the past, the artist mostly works with traditional technique of watercoloring, though adding a touch of contemporaneity to the artistic feel of a piece. I caught up with Juliette in her studio in Southwark (n.b. the artist just moved to a new location, DZ), where surrounded by a variety of her pieces we talked about art, literature, and life.

  1. How do you see contemporary art per say and its purpose, if there is any.

I don’t really see it’s having a single purpose. I just feel like it’s got to that point where if you’re making contemporary art you can use any medium to make it that you feel fitting to your ideas, so I don’t think anyone’s really restricted anymore to painting, drawing, sculpture…

  1. Do you think it’s in a way easier to be a successful artist because there are so many types of medium you can use, or are there so many different choices you can make that it’s in fact harder?

I think it’s always been hard – artists have always struggled. It’s probably more difficult to be recognized for a particular medium as a standout person within that medium because it’s no longer just about being a painter or a sculptor, or even a photographer, is it, you can mix them all together and be making work in all of them, which a lot of successful artists do.

  1. So be original in a way…


It’s always been difficult to be original hasn’t it, but it seems that throughout history people just look around them and see what’s come before them and then just reimagine it or reuse it in some way, so it is like the most exciting people are aware of what’s happened before or a range of things that’ve happened before and then they’re changing it in their own particular way.

  1. Is that something you’re trying to do because you’re using techniques of watercolour?

Technically I do look way back to 19th century painting and drawing, I look at things like the Hudson River School who are American landscape painters, and I look at the pre­Raphaelites in terms of their colour, not in terms of their subject matter. I look at etching, woodcuts; I just like to collect images. I must be drawn to particular things because they sort of feed into the work, if not instantly then a little bit further down the line. But I do definitely like the aesthetics of print and graphic drawing.

  1. But it’s still a traditional art form seen through contemporary eyes?

Sure, because we can’t avoid that. Instantly, I’m filtering it through contemporary vision but definitely I’m interested in changing historical techniques slightly so even though I’m using materials that have been used traditionally in watercolour, I’m doing it slightly differently, so I might be using watercolour more in the way that you might use ink as a drawing tool. I use modern mediums with watercolour as well, so things that have only been invented or refined into their current fom maybe in the past 50 years or so.

  1. For instance?

I use something called masking fluid which is a stopper, so I can stop the ink from touching the paper at all and then remove it right at the end to just have the raw paper, so it’s almost like diluted latex solution.

  1. So do you research these kind of things in advance?

Well it’s trial and error, really. But the way I happened upon it was because I liked the process of etching and I worked out a way of reimagining that process using ink and watercolour and this masking fluid stuff so rather than building up an etching plate I was building up an individual image in the same way you would, so you have to have a certain knowledge of materials but then you just experiment until you find something that you’re happy with, and then it’s always interesting when someone takes something to the extreme limits of how you can use it, so I guess I try to do that.

  1. Also, watercolour was always an artwork of a smaller scale, and you are trying to make it a large­scale piece?

Definitely, I think that’s a different way of using it. Traditionally it was used as a sketching medium, but I really do enjoy working on a large scale with it and I think that’s another way of making something contemporary that’s historically been used in a different way.

  1. I know you studied art history first. You are an art historian. Were you always fascinated with the 19th century art practice? Did you want to be an art historian or an artist after all?

I always wanted to be an artist really but I think I was too easily persuaded out of it when I was at school. They wanted me to do an academic subject, and I did enjoy studying art history. I was drawn to particular eras, it was 18th and 19th century, because if you look at some of those 19th c paintings, the pre-­Raphaelite ones are almost photographic and you just wonder, it was always fascinating to me how did they get that effect, ignoring the subject matter, the vibrancy of them… it still looks hyper real now when you look at some of those paintings.

  1. So would you say that they are your inspiration?

Not really, there’s lots of things that go into it, there’s literature…

  1. British?

Mainly British, I suppose. Things like old magazines and newspapers that I read and found and collected and images that appear in films, also objects…

  1. Just everyday objects, or?

Sometimes specific things I collect, I literally trawl ebay until I find something interesting, just a cover of an old newspaper or a poster for a film, and I’ve just acquired them and had a few walls of my studio plastered with pictures that could then become an inspiration for something else. There’s only a couple left up there now but like. Right now I’m quite interested in looking at traditional Chinese painting… Those artists were not bothered about whether a landscape really can make sense as we would think about it in terms of Western perspective; they’re just narrating a landscape almost, which is quite interesting.

  1. So that’s what you’re doing with your landscapes in terms of trying to make them realistic, isn’t it, though could you elaborate on why it is landscapes that you’re mostly interested in and what’s behind them?

I guess it’s the idea of using the real world as an inspiration for creating your own environment, and that’s what happens with the big installations as well, I’m using elements of the real world but reconstructing them to form my own…

  1. World…

Yeah. It is not a real place, but obviously I’ve taken elements of real places and reconstructed them, and I do the same thing when I’m making one of those installations, I take elements of a real landscape and put them back together a different way and then blow that up into a large installation.

  1. In terms of a viewer, are you trying to communicate something to them? Perhaps an experience?

I want them to be drawn into that world, I want it to be believable and I want them to… yeah I want them to experience… You’re looking at somewhere where society is broken down a bit and you’re just surrounded by nature, which I do quite like the idea of. I want you to be drawn into it and then find something in it that you think is a bit jarring or not quite right so it’s slightly threatening and also quite enticing at the same time. I’m often thinking about science fiction films where they’re set in these kind of broken down landscapes and certain horror films, post­apocalyptic films but I’m not seeing them in that way, I’m not seeing these landscapes as being totally threatening…

  1. So that’s why you’re trying to make it look wild, or imperfect?

I just like imperfection, I always have done as a child being brought up in London just finding places that are overgrown because it is unusual to find an area of greenery or an area of interest, or an area that you could crawl into or make a den in in the middle of the city. I read a lot of science fiction, so for me, it’s not a reference to something, but it kind of reminds me of all the imaginary cities or buildings in the books and comics.

I saw some really nice illustrations for Jules Verne

  1. He’s classic.

I saw some etchings by Édouard Riou…. it was this underwater scene with jellyfish floating like clouds, wacky things like that…

  1. In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to finish university to be actually qualified in terms of MFA, for instance, in fine arts to be successful?

I think life is always more difficult if you haven’t been through the art school system. I do know people who have gone straight from another degree. I know someone who did a languages degree and then went into art but in a different sphere, but I just think generally, your life would be a lot easier if you studied at art school. I think an MA can help as well if it comes at a time when you’re ready to break down your work and then go back and refine your own practice, it’s also good for meeting people and getting exhibiting opportunities. But there is a whole raft of outsider artists who have not studied at art school. The Museum of Everything is a great place to see this kind of art.

  1. Do you have a favourite artist? Or an artist who is your inspiration?

I like Samuel Palmer, some 18th c artists, quite like Rococo design rather than painting, so things they did for designing ornaments, they call it rocaille. 
Contemporary artists… I like the installation artist Wade Kavanaugh. Mark Fairnington was a tutor of mine and is a great painter. I met some interesting painters through the John Moores Painting PrizeNeal Rock, Mandy Payne, Conor Rogers

  1. Would you ever think about trying another medium?

At the moment I’m mainly working on paper, when I was at the RA I was doing oil painting, I tried acrylic painting as well. I definitely wouldn’t mind, I mean, I suppose for me it’s more about mixing 2­D and 3­D so I like doing installations and I like the way that they evolve over time and the way that they can be changed when you put them somewhere new. I like collecting objects and thinking about where those objects might lead. I’ve got a show coming up next year where I’m making a new installation which is going to be in collaboration with a furniture maker, so he’s going to make a non­functional piece of furniture that looks like it should have a purpose but actually it’s always going to be quite Escher­like, and then my drawing will respond to it. That’s a bit of a new direction.

  1. And finally do you have a few words of advice for young artists or young people in general?

I think it’s easy to be put off by people. So be consistent, put in the hours, do the work, don’t worry too much about where it’s going to end up, just have a body of work that you’re interested in, make it according to your own interests, not according to what you think you ought to be doing because everybody else is doing it. And other than that, someone gave me the advice that as long as you’re continuing to work, eventually it will go somewhere or it will feed into some other work that does. It’s when you give up and get out of the habit it of it that you can lose it.

Unlike our previous articles about art fairs, this will not be able to provide you with any names or recommendations of galleries’ booths to visit. It is about the experience of an unusual art fair

#1 Ground floor

In a brownfield site of 3000m2 in the centre of Paris, the first edition of EXPERIENCES Art Fair is born. The art fair set out with an initiative to annually promote contemporary creation in empty buildings of the French capital, in partnership with a real estate group which provides the venue. This unique event features works created by more than fifty artists especially for this purpose including large-format photography, sculptures, video installations and urban art.

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Committed to redefining obsolete codes of traditional art fairs, EXPERIENCES Art Fair offers an innovative and immersive panorama to reconnect the public with the artworks. At the same time, it aims to change the [normal] economic model of an art fair since all works are available for rental as well as for sale, and the organiser is directly funding art projects without galleries as the intermediary. In addition to selected French and international artists, this first edition of the art fair has also invited young Israeli contemporary artists while it presents simultaneously ten French artists in a hotel venue in Tel Aviv, Israel.

#2 Paintings, Alena Gaponova

The venue and ways of display have lived up to the expectation of being unusual as the name of the fair may have denoted. The exhibiting venue is three storeys and can be described as shabby (but in a cool way, with hipster aura) compared to the usual setting of major art fairs (which can be bright and grand but perhaps more intimidating). The first floor is a large, dimly lit, long space, scattered with installations throughout. I was mainly fascinated by Alena Gaponova’s paintings in a room at the very end because they give different visual representations when colours of the lights in the dark room change –at one point you see a woman’s face painted on the canvas but the next moment it changes and you see a man’s face only.

Street art installation (partial) by Jisbar

On the brighter second floor, which is mainly dedicated to photography works by various artists, Maximilien Franco’s “InsideHEADphones” project stands out. It invites visitors to put on the headphones fixated in front of each photograph that depicts an anonymous passer-by in the street listening to music with his/her headphones. By listening to the same music to which the portrayed strangers were listening when the photos were taken, we can suddenly intrude into each of their personal worlds, as if a strange intimate link between the viewer and the subject is created through the music or songs.

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At one moment during the vernissage, while fair-goers were chatting with friends and enjoying their glasses of wine in front of photography works, the light was suddenly dimmed and a team of performers came down the stairs, with the majority of around ten women wearing only underwear but each of them tied to an ironing board. They lined up in the middle of the exhibition space and started to perform [the act of] struggling to free themselves from their ironing boards while all visitors gathered around and paid full attention with the aid of mobile phones or cameras… This live performance, as I perceived, was probably about the emancipation of women from their family roles and social stereotypes. Besides the live performance art, observing other people’s reactions could be seen as part of the interesting “experiences”.

Installation by Victor Cord'homme

The top floor is for larger sculptural and installation works, but unfortunately, I have to say that the display on this floor did not seem as carefully curated and exposes incoherence. This can be a slight weakness when such an art fair is without any booths and artists just bring their own works to be exhibited next to one another in the same space, unlike any curated exhibition. On the other hand, several rooms at the back provide wonderful spaces of creativity, where one artist occupies and designs the setting and display of each whole room.

Installation (partial) by Vinie Graffiti

On the whole, the concept of EXPERIENCES Art Fair is innovative and has provided an alternative experimental platform to traditional art fairs. It has also demonstrated the creative energy in Paris, still being a breeding ground for young talents and an indispensable contemporary art scene. So come to experience this unique art fair from 28 November to 6 December 2015, it’s free entry anyway – also unusual for an art fair!

On a Saturday morning this November, I had my first artist interview with Poline Harbali in her cozy studio-apartment in Paris. That turned out to be a very inspiring conversation with intense exchange of deep thoughts.

Poline Harbali is of Franco-Syrian origin. Her artistic practice is constructed around the search for her identity, which is particularly difficult when she has no direct access to her family in Syria. Poline then started to work on family memories through collected photographs which are then superimposed, wrinkled, redesigned, printed on transparent or textile fabric or burned iron. Poline’s art strives to pose questions on various topics including femininity and to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context, for instance, giving new definitions of embroidery. Her embroidery work is currently being exhibited at bookshop-gallery, Violette and Co in Paris until 29 November. Her works were seen at JABAL Art Fair of Beirut in both 2014 and 2015.

Poline Harbali

  1. You specialised in graphic design, photography and illustration at school, in what way have these practices influenced your art?

At the beginning, I studied Master in Philosophy for four years and I already specialised in aesthetic, and for me, it is important to put ideas into forms. At the beginning in my photography class, I was working with old pictures of my family. My father is Syrian and my mother is French, while all other family members are in Damascus in Syria, but we can’t go to Syria because of the war and all the complicated situations. Then, photography became important as a means to share the life with the family in Syria, pretending I am living with them, because my family in Syria and I would exchange photos from our life. This was the beginning of my work –I was trying to find the missing pieces of myself, my identity through photography. 

  1. How is your family background and identity important to you as an artist?

My family background is very important because I’ve always been striving to search for an identity. There is not one thing from either my mother’s family or my father’s family that can tell me who I am, and that will always keep me wondering about my identity. As an artist, I am not very interested in giving answers to people. What I like is researching and trial and error. So wondering about who I am, who my family is and how I can interact with them has influenced the topics of my work for sure, and also the way that I am working. That is, I am not trying to communicate certain messages, but I am more questioning through my work rather than answering questions. I put questions from my mind into forms.

  1. It seems your artistic practice stems from your quest to discover your identity, and you started this process with photography, can you tell us more about that process, how did you go further from that?

Yes, I started with photography. I’ve been always interested in “transgression”. As I come from an Arabic family, and in Arabic perceptions, there are many norms or rules of how you should behave as a woman. I think I never felt fine with what my family told me to be. To start with, there were a lot of Syrian tablecloths which were made of specific way of Syrian embroidery called agabanee, with gold threads, in vegetal patterns like flowers and plants. This embroidery is an activity that women do a lot at home, including my grandmother. And I really feel close to all the women in my family as I felt we’re concerned about the same wondering. So I wanted to use and work with this technique but make transgression about that. It means that, originally embroidery was something to keep women at home and to just spend their time while waiting for men to come home. And I wanted to make it in the opposite way that I make embroidery because I want to embroider and to talk about myself through embroidery, such as my fears as a woman, my sexuality or my intimacy in general.
I try to make something not beautiful. That’s an important point because traditionally we always want women to make beautiful things, for decorative reasons. But I want to make something raw; sometimes mixing it with beautiful things, for example, I love using floral patterns which I superimpose with something dark and raw.

  1. I see. So I think that’s a way how you to try to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context. Is that what you’re doing in your art?

Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important for me to use traditional materials, like fabric, because I’m really questioning the tradition in my work. Also, I’m working with clothes in an installation project right now. I make use of homewear clothing that I got from my grandmother and then I make embroidery, drawings and prints on it. I think the materials are like a soul. For example, homewear clothing in my grandmother’s generation was something very specific that represents women’s roles in the family as a wife, a mother. There is a book that I really like called A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I think it’s very important to always have the time and a place at home that you’re with yourself to focus on yourself, your work, your desire… So with this project, I hope to re-establish an individual space for women through these white and not decorative homewear clothes. I’m just trying to question why it’s so important for my grandmother to be a wife, to have beautiful homewear and to be always very pretty for somebody else. Also, I want to bring out all those things which are forbidden by moral norms and make women ashamed of, such as rape, abortion and other humiliations, and expose them on the outside on the homewear clothing, instead of keeping them inside women.

  1. Any artists who have particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?

Well, there’re a lot. I really like Louise Bourgeois that I find the way she was doing her art was very interesting. What I like is that she’s not afraid of working on both more intellectual or conceptual art and raw or brutal art together. Her work is not conventional in the sense that she has plastic art skills for sure as an artist, but she’s also a conceptual artist at the same time. I’m very sensitive to her work. Two or three years ago in Berlin, it was my first time to see a work of hers in person. I saw this huge work with many drawings of red hands, which was powerful for me. I was crying.
Also, I like Kiki Smith because I find her work very seductive. She’s not trying to fit her work into something else, but she focuses more on the process than the results and I also like working this way. So she’s a big inspiration.
Then, the music of an Austrian singer called Soap&Skin who inspires me too. She has a traditional background too but she’s very experimental and contemporary. This is similar to what I do –questioning the tradition and making something new out of it.

  1. How do you define femininity? What do you think about women artists in the contemporary art world?

I think there should be no definition of femininity and there’re a million ways to be a feminine person. This is what is really interesting in our time. We can make the choice even if it’s not easy at all to make those choices. This is something very different from the years before. I’m not seeing myself as an angry feminist, but I think of the book King Kong Theory by a French writer Virginia Despentes. She says in our society women always define themselves from men. I think both for her and for me, a lot of people think being feminine is to be soft, kind, smart but not too smart, pretty and a bit sexy or seductive somehow. For example, there is one part of the book talking about the double standards between men and women. I always felt myself as a raw person who doesn’t like following others’ expectations. For example, if you’re not always soft or very independent, you speak in a frank way; people would think you’re like a man. And this is something bothering me a lot. I think it’s time to remove these gender stereotypes. There has been definition of femininity for a long time, but I think it’s very important to not have one.

  1. You exiled yourself to Nantes, Montreal and Barcelona. As I come from another culture but now living in a different one, I am very interested in your experiences of displacement, can you share your feelings about that?

I am a person with wanderlust and I like being like this because every time you move out, you have a chance to redefine yourself, to break through people’s perceptions of you. When you encounter new people, you always discover something new about yourself, and you have a broader view of what life can be or what you can be. The year in Barcelona was particularly difficult for me, but I learnt a lot about who I was and why this experience was complicated for me, so it was an important experience. Learning a new language can help to express yourself differently too. I was wandering around for almost ten years, but now I feel that I want to gather all those experiences and build something in a place. At some point, it is important for me to belong to a place for some time at least and then I can transform all the things that I’ve collected from my experiences into some forms.

  1. What impacts do these displacement experiences have on your artistic creation?

What can be seen in my art that is related to these experiences is that I like to experience new ways to work. I don’t define myself with embroidery or photography. In my work, I’m not only searching for subjects, but also searching for forms that I don’t even know what it is. I think I’m wandering in my art.

  1. So now do you see Paris as your home?

Yes, I really feel home in Paris. I’m French but I’m originally not from Paris. I’ve been living in Paris for around four years, but I really feel home here. When I went to Montreal, I really felt home there that I felt connected with that city which has my rhythm. But I thought I needed other experiences, so then I decided to go to Barcelona. I think it is possible to have different little homes and whenever I go back to Montreal from time to time, I still feel myself having nice energy there, so maybe it’s like a second home. And everyone in family comes from different origins and has been to different places too. I think it’s important to find and choose a place to be home by myself. Moving around can bring different perspectives that can make a person complicated but also very interesting. I feel lucky.

  1. How would you describe the art scene in France or in Paris? How do you interact with it?

I don’t really know because I don’t feel very connected with the French art, not that it’s not interesting, but it’s less related to the “questions” I ask with my art. I’ve been participating in the JABAL Art Fair in Beirut for two years. From the art fair, I can feel more connected with the Middle East art because those artists and I are concerned about similar questions, such as war, violence or women’s life. But what is different from other Middle East artists is that I use materials that are more similar to French art. For ideas, I’m more inspired by French writers.

  1. That’s interesting and brings me to another question: How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?

I always like reading and I think that’s why I studied philosophy. Reading is like endless conversations with the authors. As you read, you always answer and question the writer. Conversations with people are always with certain notions or goals, but with reading, you can always question the writers, which is something very important for me and my art. I work a lot on books. When I read a good book, it always inspires me on my art somehow. I like putting a concept into a form. And I always like questioning more than answering and my art is like questions without words and can make people question themselves while I question myself. There is not any goal. I didn’t choose to do something with words like writing or cinema because words are much more definitive by nature compared to visual art. That’s why I like visual art which is more flexible and open.

I also want to talk to you about a French writer called Olivia Rosenthal that’s really inspiring me. She’s questioning the moral norms and the impacts of the family on her life. Like, she would also speak about how family secrets can influence your life a lot even if you don’t know them. So it’s mainly about the conflict between individual thinking and outside norms in the family system. Then, this is something really well done in the Turkish movie Winter Sleep. This spoke to me a lot because it’s in Turkey and my grandmother is Turkish. In this movie, you can how the family system is working and how in the Middle East, expectations from society can influence almost your every behaviours as a man. This movie is very violent for me because the tension was always kept below the calm surface. This is really in the Middle East culture and is very inspiring to me.

  1. What role does art play in your life?

I can’t say that I’m making art just for myself because I think when you make a form you want it to be seen. I’m making my works differently every time after some feedbacks and observing people’s interactions with my art. I think it’s always a bit political, not in the sense of defending some right, but in the sense that I’m really questioning topics like femininity, family secrets. It’s important to make art for myself for sure, but also to try to make repressed ideas visible to the world. Sometimes I just feel the need to find a good form to express what I feel. It’s very important for me to express all my colours inside me through my works. I have to create a form to get my feelings and questions out of my body so that it exists outside my body and it’s not mine anymore. Maybe it sounds weird… Maybe lots of thoughts come up to me and it’s like I need a place to deposit them, or else it may be too overwhelming. It’s important for my life and my art that at some moments I really concentrate on all my thoughts and questions and other moments I put them away.

  1. As a young artist, have you had some moments of feeling lost? How do you cope with that and find your own way?

I think in my creative life, there are moments when I’m more productive and other moments when I’m not doing anything. At the beginning, I would feel very anxious. I think this is normal and the beginning of the process. When I create something, I have to leave it for a while to let it grow and then get back to it to make it differently. That’s also the research part. As I also work for Le Monde as an illustrator. Illustration is more like an intellectual work because large part of the work is about finding the concept and how to link it with an image, so it’s like a philosophical work but with pencil. It’s also something important for applied art; it’s not just about looking for a good form. I’m trying to experiment with different forms from the same place, so it’s an evolution. Sometimes, it can be stressful when one week I keep working on the same thing, but the next week I don’t like it at all. It’s hard to be always satisfied with everything you do. Well, the way to cope with it is that I try to keep doing it. There is no rush. I just enjoy the process of making art, so I make it. That’s it!

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